Wildfire recovery efforts: Fall will reveal regrowth potential, need for seeding
“If it’s black, it’ll come back,” says retired State Natural Resources Conservation Service Range Conservationist Everet Bainter of areas affected by this summer’s widespread wildfires.
In the areas that burnt hotter, leaving a white powder, Mother Nature may need some short-term help with the healing process.
Bainter and Mike Smith, a range scientist at the University of Wyoming, recently took a moment to share some proactive measures that Wyoming landowners might consider as they plan to move past this summer’s wildfire challenges. Where rain has been received, erosion is a leading concern at present for many Wyoming landowners.
Regenerating the range
“In the really short term,” says Smith of erosion, “the main thing to do is stay out of the way.”
With little vegetation to catch the run-off, rain can create treacherous conditions.
In timbered areas, Bainter says falling trees horizontally along the hillside and dropping rocks in higher flow areas to slow the water, can help mitigate erosion. In some areas erosion mitigation is a must before reseeding will be a feasible option.
“If there is going to be much regeneration of existing plants they should show up by fall,” says Smith.
In those areas that remain bare, broadcast seeding is a consideration. Given the rugged terrain in many of the areas affected by wildfire, it might be something that’s addressed on a limited and spot-by-spot basis.
“Hot fires can leave a hydrophobic surface that has to be broken or weathered down for a couple of years,” says Smith. “High animal hoof action might be useful in addressing spots like this, and if this is done, broadcast seed would be advised to take advantage of the hoof prints as sites for germination.”
In the absence of reseeding, Smith says it can take years for vegetation to re-establish itself in these hot burn areas. Bainter says weedy forbs will be the first plants to appear.
If seeding is necessary after the coming months reveal regrowth potential, Bainter suggests including an annual like oats or barley as a cover crop to help the new grass establish.
“It’s a terrible time of year to seed anything,” he says. “If I had to seed anything, I’d wait until after the first killing frost to keep it from generating until after that first freeze.”
Bainter says seed should be stored in an area where temperature plus humidity equals less than 100.
Neither Bainter nor Smith call for a delay in grazing, but offer some tips to landowners as they move forward.
“Remember soil health,” says Bainter, “and the need to rebuild litter on the ground.”
Because livestock will be more likely to graze the burnt areas where the forage is more succulent, Smith says, “Limit grazing in the first post fire year to late summer or fall. After that do not stay in a pasture very long and keep utilization to a moderate level. Smaller burned areas are very attractive to grazing animals so forget about the rest of the pasture. Watch the burned area.”
“Fire is usually an extreme but short-term event that usually does more good than harm if post fire management is well done,” says Smith. “There should be plenty more forage afterward. Getting through the immediate aftermath is the bigger issue.”
A UW Extension publication Smith helped author highlights some of the forages available for reseeding and their associated traits. It can be found at wyomingextension.org/AgPubs/Pubs/B1206.pdf.
An NRCS publication from November 2010 also offers additional information on seeding varieties, optimum dates and other considerations. It can be found online at wy.nrcs.usda.gov/Technical/Plant/tech_notes.html.
Jennifer Vineyard Womack is a freelance writer who lives near Newcastle. She can be reached at Womack@Wyoming.com.